Care, Health and Safety

By Trish Simpson

Contents: Acclimatization Time | Other Pets | Food -- What Kind, How Much, How Often? | Care -- Do's and Dont's | Safety | Collars and Leashes | Grooming | Declawing | Training | Play -- When, How Long, What Kind? | General Notes | Supplies

These guidelines are provided to help you care for your new kitten. These hints, plus tender, loving care, will help you keep your kitten healthy, playful, and affectionate.

ACCLIMATIZATION TIME
Please remember that this is your kitten's first time away from the only home it has ever known, and it will probably be insecure and confused at first. Give the baby time, and don't expect it to be best friends with you right away. Keep the kitten's introduction to other family members and pets as quiet and stress-free as possible and, most of all, give it time to become used to the new surroundings.

Show the kitten its litter box, food, and water as soon as you get it home, and then be prepared for accidents! However, don't spank the baby if it misses its litter box! Rather, pick it up, put it in its box, and make digging motions with its front paws. Young kittens sometimes forget where their boxes are, or suddenly realize that they have to go now -- this is normal, and will pass quickly.

Introduce the kitten to one room at a time; offer encouragement and petting, but allow it to explore in its own time. After it is comfortable and settled down in the first room, allow it to proceed to others. Try not to startle the kitten, and again, remember that this is a stressful time, which brings us to: Stress: Your kitten has had both series of kitten vaccinations and is in good health. However, it is not unusual for a new kitten to hide, be skittish, or refuse to eat for a couple of days. Give lots of petting, soft speech, and encouragement, and you'll find that the kitten will quickly adjust.

Be aware that the kitten will probably cry a lot the first couple of nights. Although it is completely weaned, it is used to being around lots of other cats, and the baby misses mom, litter mates, the smells of 'home,' and is scared and lonely. As soon as it makes friends with you and your other pet(s), this crying will stop.

OTHER PETS:
If you have other pets, wait until the kitten is settled and comfortable before bringing in other animals, one at a time. Do not leave the kitten alone with the other pet(s) until you are certain that they are good friends (this may be several weeks!). One good trick we have found is to give all pets (including the new arrival) a bath about 24 hours after bringing the kitten home. This way everyone smells the same, and will frequently accept each other immediately after. Be certain to give the 'old' pets lots of attention, in order to keep them from being jealous and to avoid stirring territorial instincts too strongly. It is always possible that the original pet may not take too kindly to someone new using its litter pan/food dish. Be prepared for this by giving the new kitten its own litter pan and food and water dishes.

FOOD -- WHAT KIND, HOW MUCH, HOW OFTEN?
Your kitten is completely weaned, and has been eating ________ canned food ____ times a day. There is also __________ dry food available at all times, and, of course, plenty of fresh water. Please introduce the kitten to any new foods gradually to avoid upsetting its stomach. New foods should be mixed with the food the kitten is currently eating, gradually adding more of the new food and less of the old until the kitten is eating the new food exclusively.

Treats won't hurt the kitten's health so long as they don't exceed 10% of the diet. If you make a regular habit of giving a treat after you finish eating, the kitten will learn to look forward to it and won't bother you, your family, or your guests while you eat, but will wait patiently.

Contrary to popular belief, cow's milk often isn't good for cats, as most can't digest it properly, and consequently get diarrhea.

We recommend metal or china dishes. Plastic dishes can harbor germs in the surface which can cause a condition known as feline acne. Feline acne is small pimples on the chin, which cause swelling and discomfort, and can be very difficult to clear up. If this problem arises, consult your vet for the best method of treatment.

Please heat up any refrigerated food before feeding it to the kitten (food should be served at room temperature). If you heat food in the microwave, be sure to stir it up thoroughly before offering it to the kitten. Microwaves tend to get food very hot in some places, and not hot at all in others, and you don't want the kitten to burn its mouth.

CARE -- DO'S AND DON'TS
Because such potentially fatal feline diseases as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), Feline Aids (FIV) (no, it's not contagious to humans), and respiratory viruses are common - not to mention automobiles, predators, cruel humans, and other hazards - we require that you not allow your kitten to run freely outside. (Even if the kitten has been vaccinated against FeLV and FIP, it may still be at risk of infection.) If you choose to ignore this requirement, the chances are good that your kitten will not survive its first year, and you will be in violation of your contract. If, however, you keep the kitten inside, or only take it out on a leash (as described below) life expectancy is 12 years or more.

SAFETY:
Before you let your new kitten loose in your home, check for the following safety hazards:

Electrical and phone cords left dangling
Toilet lids left up (a kitten can easily drown in a toilet bowl)
Open firescreens
Open stairways
Reclining chairs and hide-a-beds (the mechanism of these can easily crush a kitten who has crawled inside)
Hideaway (Murphy) beds (again, they can crush a kitten caught in the mechanism)
Fringe or any loose trim (kittens have been known to strangle when their heads get twisted in the fringe or in a hole between trim and fabric.)
Dangling drapery cords (another invitation to strangulation)
Accessible garbage (especially any kind of bones -- bones can either splinter and perforate the stomach or intestines, or form an intestinal blockage)
Needles and/or thread; knitting and/or crocheting materials
Rubber bands (which can wrap around the intestines)
Plastic wrap (the kitten can eat it, strangle on it, or suffocate in it)
Plastic bags (a kitten can become trapped and suffocate, or get its head tangled in the loop and panic)
Styrofoam (especially packing "peanuts") which the kitten may eat
Cigarettes (yes, they'll eat them)
Yarn toys (if they come unraveled, they can wrap around the intestines or block them)
Toys with easily removed and swallowed parts
Cellophane (it turns glassy in the stomach and can cause internal lacerations)
Christmas tree needles, tinsel, and decorations
Open refrigerators, dishwashers, microwaves, ovens, washers, dryers -- always check for kittens before shutting or turning on any appliance!
Put away feathers and toys attached to string (such as kitty teasers) after use. Kittens and cats will often eat feathers and swallow string.
Keep your workshop off limits. Cats will jump at moving objects such as drills and power saws. They may also swallow screws, nails, wire, and other small parts.
Kittens like to taste about everything. Keep all cleaning products and other chemicals stored away and out of reach. Anything with phenyl (check the label) is deadly to cats (this includes Lysol).
Cats love to drink out of toilet bowls, so it's wise not to use anything in your toilet. The best disinfectant to use is one part bleach to 30 parts water. Remember, kittens lick their paws, so be careful what you use on your floors and counters.
Cats love certain scents, and one of their favorites is antifreeze, which will kill a cat in short order. If your kitten should get into anti-freeze and you discover it in time, RUN to the nearest vet or emergency clinic.
Keep the numbers of your local poison control center, your vet, and the emergency clinic posted by your phone.
Poisonous Plants: The following plants are in some degree poisonous or hazardous to cats:
Anemone, black cherry, bloodroot, buttercup, caladium, castor bean, clematis, crocus, cycads, daphne (splurge laurel), delphinium, dicentra (bleeding heart), dieffenbachia, elephant's ear, english ivy, foxglove, four o'clock, hellebore, hemlock, holly, hyacinth, hydrangea, indian splurge tree, jack-in-the-pulpit, jerusalem cherry, jimson weed, lantana (red sage), larkspur, lily-of-the-valley, mistletoe, morning glory, mountain laurel, oleander, philodendron, poinsettia*, poinciana (bird of paradise), poison ivy, poison oak, pokeweed, rhododendron, solandra (trumpet flower), star of bethlehem (snowdrop), sweet pea, thornapple, wisteria, and yew. * Some experts have removed poinsettia from the list of harmful plants.

Collars and Leashes:
If you use a collar on your kitten, check it daily to be sure it isn't becoming too tight as the kitten grows. Conversely, a kitten can easily catch its lower jaw in a too-loose collar. A breakaway collar is the best choice, as it will separate if it becomes caught on something.

If you train your kitten to a leash, use a harness designed for cats -- never a collar (a cat will only struggle against the pull of a collar around its neck, but is more amenable to the behind-the-front-legs tug of a harness). Remember that harnesses are not totally secure, and a cat wearing a harness and leash should NEVER be left unsupervised. The cat may slip out of the harness, or strangle himself on the leash.

Never walk a leashed cat near a roadway or on a busy sidewalk unless you're sure the cat is very calm (cats that can be trusted not to panic in these situations are literally one-in-a-million!). The noise and motion of cars, people, other animals, etc., can cause a cat to panic, slip its harness, and dash into danger. The best place for your leashed cat is in your own quiet back yard with you.

Grooming:

Maine Coons present little grooming problems. Their coats are easy to maintain, and a weekly combing with a wide-toothed comb (about 9 teeth per inch) followed by a narrow-toothed comb (about 12 teeth per inch) is all that is generally necessary (use a flea comb on the face and ear furnishings). Keep in mind that regular grooming is necessary to prevent the cat from developing hairballs which can cause vomiting and/or intestinal blockage.

You will have to comb your cat more often in the spring and fall, which are seasons of heavy shedding. Pay particular attention to the areas behind and below the ears, the flanks, the britches, between the back legs, and under the front legs. These are the areas where mats most readily form.

If you wish to keep your cat looking like a champion, a bath once a month with a good pet shampoo, followed by blow-drying and a good combing is recommended. If the tail is extra oily (a particular problem with unaltered male cats), rub mechanics' hand cleaner (Goop or Go-Jo) into the dry tail and wash out with Dawn dishwashing liquid. Be sure to rinse all traces of soap out of the coat, and don't ever leave the cat unattended with hand-cleaner on its coat. Your kitten is accustomed to baths, so if you decide to do this, you shouldn't have too much trouble. If the kitten objects to the blow-dryer, place it in its carrier with the dryer propped up about 12 inches from the door. Leave the kitten in the carrier for about 15 minutes, then comb it out and allow it to air dry in a warm, draft-free room. Keep the heat set on low whenever using a blow-dryer on a cat.

Declawing:
Declawing is a mutilation, not the minor operation that proponents of this procedure would have you believe, and is expressly forbidden in our contract. Those in favor of declawing point out that most cats can still climb trees after declawing. This is all very well until the cat is cornered without a tree, back to the wall, and has nothing at all for long-range defense. Additionally, a declawed cat is very likely to bite (because it doesn't have its claws for defense) and to refuse to use its litter box (because its mutilated toes hurt when it tries to dig). It is perfectly possible to train your kitten not to scratch your furniture, and keeping its claws clipped will protect your possessions while it is learning its manners.

Provide at least one, or better yet, several scratching posts for your kitten as soon as possible. (The kitten has been used to using one at our house.) Try to get the posts covered with a material of a different texture than your carpeting or upholstery, so the kitten doesn't get confused about which object is O.K. to scratch and which isn't. (A wooden post wound tightly with heavy sisal rope [they don't like nylon or plastic] makes an excellent scratching post.) Encourage and praise the baby when it uses the post; squirt it with a spray bottle of water and shame it when it uses something else (see 'Training' below).

TRAINING
Contrary to widespread belief, cats are trainable by proper methods: rewards and tangible but removed punishment (see 'Spray Bottle Method,' below).

Be firm and patient with your kitten. By teaching it the house rules now, you can avoid future behavioral problems. Actions that are cute in a kitten may not seem so cute in an adult (such as nursing on your arm or sitting on the dining room table). If the kitten scratches its claws where it shouldn't, say "NO," take it to its scratching post, and make scratching motions with its feet. Kittens respond well to a firm voice and patience. They are naturally fastidious, and want to behave.

The Spray Bottle Method:
Behavior problems that don't respond to "NO!" can usually be modified by giving the kitten a quick shot of water from a spray bottle. This method removes you from the punishment in the kitten's mind, which is desirable for two reasons: The kitten doesn't begin to fear you as a source of punishment (as it would if you spank!), and it thinks the water is an 'Act of God,' and will refrain from the undesirable behavior even if you aren't around. (A similar method works to keep your kitten from running outdoors: Stand outside, hose in hand, door open, and spray the kitten when it sets foot outside. After a few times, the kitten will decide that there's nothing out there that it wanted anyway! Another method some friends of ours use as a backup is to attach a water gun with velcro to their front door [they even got a water gun the same color as the door!]. When they go in or out they remove the gun and hold it ready to squirt an errant kitten. Works every time!).

PLAY -- WHEN, HOW LONG, WHAT KIND?
Kittens and adult Maine Coons like to play. Generally, the morning or early evening (following afternoon naps) is the best time if you want an enthusiastic response, especially in an adult cat.

We try to discourage rough play, as this can make the kitten too aggressive. (If the kitten kicks at your hand or bites at your fingers, say "NO," blow in its face, and remove your hand.)

Soft toys with no small, easily removed and swallowed pieces are good toys; a twisted paper attached to a string tied to a stick is wonderful. With it you can go 'fishing for kittens,' and the pouncing and jumping it elicits is great exercise for the kitten. (If you use this type of toy, don't leave the kitten unattended with it; the kitten may well get dangerously tangled in the string.)

Remember that what your kitten needs most is your time and attention. Especially if it is left alone during the day, it will be very glad to see you in the evening, and demand quite a bit of attention. Please remember that kittens are sensitive, living creatures, and don't allow your friends, children, or other pets to mishandle this baby. One sure way to guarantee an unsatisfactory pet is to mistreat it, even inadvertently. On the other hand, plenty of attention, love, and considerate play will result in a companion who will give years of joy.

GENERAL NOTES
Booster shots will not be required until the kitten is one year old, unless it is to be shown, exposed to cats who are being shown, exposed to cats brought into the house for breeding, and/or exposed to outdoor cats. In these cases, it should receive booster shots at six-month intervals, to protect it from the stress of exposure to strange viruses.

If you plan on giving the currently available Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and/or Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) vaccines to your kitten, be aware that having had the FeLV and FIP series does NOT guarantee the kitten will be immune to FeLV and FIP; you must be just as careful about exposing the kitten to possible FeLV/FIP-positive cats as you would be if the shots had not been given. We do not recommend or give the FeLV or FIP vaccinations.

We do not use flea collars, first because their effectiveness is questionable and second, because flea collars can cause skin sores on long-haired cats, due to the concentration of poison around the neck. Rather, a good flea powder or spray, available from your vet, is a better solution to the problem of fleas. If your kitten never goes outdoors, this problem probably won't arise.

Congratulations on your new family member! This baby is a real sweetie, and we think you'll be very happy together. If you have any questions, please remember that we are available to provide help and answer questions.

SUPPLIES
Litter box (covered is nice)
Litter box scooper
Litter box liners
Brand of litter recommended: __________
Food (as noted in feeding instructions)
Three china or metal dishes
Scratching posts
Metal combs (9 & 12 teeth per inch)
Flea Comb
Flea shampoo, powder, and spray
Cat carrier (size #100)
Nail clippers for cats
Toys

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